Today's Papers

Mosqued Gunmen

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and New York Timeslead with Iraq, where the governor of Baghdad was killed, as were five GIs in three separate attacks. Six of the governor’s bodyguards were also killed during the attack, which was led by a large group of heavily armed insurgents, all of whom, according to the Los Angeles Times, escaped. Eight Iraqi commandos and two civilians were killed by a massive suicide truck bomb that exploded near Baghdad’s Green Zone and damaged about 40 houses. USA Todayleads with what the U.N.’s top relief official called the “logistical nightmare” in getting aid to tsunami victims, particularly those in Aceh. “I would say tens of thousands of people have received no relief.” Planes couldn’t even land for much of yesterday in Aceh after a 737 landing hit a herd of cows. The U.S. has doubled the number of helicopters it’s providing, to 90.

The LAT leads with two big centrist Democratic groups coming out against President Bush’s probable plan to privatize Social Security. In the past, both groups have argued Democrats should be open to tweaking the program, even to limited privatization. The Times’ Ron Brownstein sees their opposition as a sign that centrists might torpedo the president’s plan.

The NYT says “several” civilians wounded in the truck bombing said the attack only increased their determination. “I am telling you,” said one wounded man, “I am now more committed to go to the electoral centers and vote.” About 70 members of Iraqi security forces have been killed in the past week.

Everybody notes that Iraq’s interim president, who had been supportive of holding the elections on time, said yesterday it’s now “a tough call.” The Post notes that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who once fibbed nonchalantly about nearly all provinces being calm, now frequently refers to the situation as “our catastrophe.” One U.S. diplomat told the Post, “The war’s worse, the insurgency’s worse.”

Don’t tell that to the “senior U.S. State Department official in Baghdad,” quoted in the LAT. “Frankly, I don’t think the security situation is deteriorating,” said the SUSSDO. “I think the security situation is actually a little better than it was, say, six weeks ago.” The Times notes that the official gave the quotes to “Pentagon reporters in a videoconference briefing.” In other words, this was one of those curious background briefings, the transcripts of which the Pentagon posts on the Web.

TP doesn’t see mention of comments by Iraq’s new intel chief that “the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people.”

Citing “senior American counterterrorism officials,” the NYT says on Page One that the White House is considering sanctions against Syria, which officials maintain hasn’t been doing enough to crack down on an Iraqi insurgent support-network there. Read down to the penultimate paragraph (the 21st), and the story quotes one anono-official saying there is actually “a wide range of views” about whether to sanction Syria.

A Post reporter tagged along on one U.S. helicopter run in Aceh. In some towns, survivors swarmed the chopper. The best situation was in a near-mountain village where aid seems to be getting and children waited patiently. There were no adults. “All these kids are orphans,” said the pilot. “We have enough to eat,” said one child, “but we don’t have enough drink.”

The NYT says choppers have only gone as far as the leveled city of Meulaboh: “The fate of villages to the south remains unknown.” (Judging by one map, that’s about half of Aceh’s coast.)

The Post goes inside with rebels in Aceh claiming Indonesian soldiers have killed a few guerrillas who were trying to deliver aid.

The WP goes above-the-fold with details on how Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales helped “set the course” for the harsh treatment of captured al-Qaida suspects. The Post says Gonzales oversaw the drafting of the infamous and now disavowed “torture memo” and did so“without consulting military and State Department experts.” Brainstorming about the memo was apparently limited to a “small group of conservative legal officials” and usually “excluded potential dissenters.” One former military lawyer who actually was involved in the debate said, “It was not an open and honest discussion.” The Post adds that at least one of the torture-related memos appears to have been written by the vice president’s top legal man, even though it has Gonzales’ signature.

The NYT has a similar though far more modest piece. It’s shorter, more circumspect and for whatever reason doesn’t have nearly as many details. The story focuses on the fact that the torture memo resulted directly from a request Gonzales made asking Justice Dept. lawyer’s to define the president’s authority one way or the other. That doesn’t seem to be a new revelation.

An op-ed in the Journal considers the torture memo as well as the administration’s recent reversal and concludes that Gonzales has “provided wise counsel to the president.”

From the Post’s Al Kamen:
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters)—Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel cannot sue a Web site that published a photo of him with two women above a caption reading ‘You’re never too old to be a pimp,’ a U.S. appeals court ruled Tuesday. The term ‘pimp’ was probably intended as a compliment, the court said.”